Ananth Krishnan

They are in good health, say embassy officials

BEIJING: The 21 Indians who were arrested last week in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on diamond smuggling charges have sought the help of a Chinese law firm, even as they wait for charges to be filed by a Shenzhen court.

The traders were “in good health,” according to Indian officials who met them on Wednesday.

Officials from the Indian Embassy in Beijing and the Consulate in Guangzhou were granted access by Chinese authorities to meet the 21 traders and businessmen, who were among 33 foreigners arrested on January 8. They have been accused of helping jewellery companies in Shenzhen illegally source diamonds from Hong Kong for sale in the Chinese open market.

Indian officials were briefed on the circumstances of the arrest and the charges the traders will face. They met most of the 21. Ambassador S. Jaishankar told The Hindu that the traders were in good health. Their focus now, he said, was on securing legal representation.

They have sought the help of a law firm in Shenzhen to represent their case. The Indian Embassy has also offered its assistance in helping the arrested find suitable legal representation, if required.

It remains unclear how long the traders will remain in custody. The time taken for Chinese courts to press charges can often vary, from days to weeks, depending on the circumstances of a particular case.

Cases involving foreigners are, however, usually dealt with promptly. Speaking in New Delhi, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said the Indian government would provide necessary assistance within the framework of Chinese laws.

He cautioned against indulging in “a game of speculation.” “There is a legal framework within which we have to help these 21 merchants,” Mr. Krishna said.

Customs officials in Shenzhen said the January 8 raid was conducted after a two-month investigation. In all, 50 traders were arrested on Friday, including 33 foreigners. The 21 Indian traders are accused of being “carriers,” or suppliers in the trade, helping local companies bring in diamonds from Hong Kong and elsewhere, according to local authorities.

China has one of the world’s fastest-growing diamond markets, and a number of Indian companies have set up processing units in the country.